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Zimbabwe: Elections

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 27 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the current electoral process in Zimbabwe conforms to the Southern African Development Community standards for the conduct of elections.

My Lords, the conditions for elections in Zimbabwe are poor: the electoral register is not accurate; the electoral commission is not independent; and the opposition parties are not permitted to campaign and hold rallies freely, nor are they being given fair access to media. It is important for the credibility of those that do send observers that they ensure that Zimbabwe’s election meets the SADC principles and guidelines.

My Lords, I am sure the whole House agrees with what the Minister has just said. Are not the elections which will happen in the next few days regarded as particularly important because they are taking place under the auspices of President Mbeki of South Africa and at the instance of SADC? Was not one of the successes of those negotiations an agreement that the police would not be present in the polling stations while voting was taking place? However, is it not also true that President Mugabe has recently revoked that decision without consulting anybody as far as I know, certainly not consulting even his own Government? Does that not mean that the elections will take place without adhering to the SADC rules for elections, which are pretty good? Is the Minister aware of any complaint which has been made by a SADC member country or even by the secretary-general of SADC?

My Lords, the noble Lord’s characterisation of these elections taking place under the auspices of President Mbeki is one that I suspect President Mbeki would quibble with. The changes that he sought to secure in the election processes of Zimbabwe have been honoured more in the breach than the observance. Many of them, while put on to the statute book, have not been fully implemented by the Government and the fact is that the fundamentals of the SADC principles are not met. More than 3 million to 4 million people remain outside the country, which—as there are only 5.9 million registered voters for the election—means that at least one-third of the country is disfranchised. I could continue with the list. It is a very sorry situation.

My Lords, on the assumption that the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe may well replicate recent events in Kenya, will the Government say what steps are being taken to protect the interests of British nationals who may be living in Zimbabwe?

My Lords, my noble friend is right. We have to look at every possible eventuality. We very much hope that there will not be the violence that followed the elections in Kenya. We very much hope that the Government of Zimbabwe will allow free and fair elections and then accept the result. But if that does not happen and there is indeed violence and displacement, we have plans in place. It will not surprise the noble Lord if I say that it would be imprudent of me to go beyond that at this stage.

My Lords, more important than what we or Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or the International Crisis Group think, has the Minister noted—more importantly, does he think that the observer groups have noted—the comments by Mr Bongani Masuku, international affairs officer of the South African trade union movement, COSATU, that there have been blatant deviations from SADC principles, including, for example, the denial of access to the state-run print and broadcasting media, the printing of 3 million extra ballot papers, denial of access by the opposition candidates to the registers, and so on? How can one have a free and fair election in these circumstances?

My Lords, a wide range of independent observers—the noble Lord mentioned several: the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and the United States State Department, as well as local observers in the region—have already declared that these elections cannot be free and fair. Given the British position, it behoves us to reserve our own judgment until after the election. I think that the ruling party would like nothing more than for me in this House today to declare the elections as already not free and fair. But the noble Lord is correct: the omens are dreadful.

My Lords, the World Food Programme has brought forward food distributions just in time to boost Mugabe’s campaign. In the light of the WFP’s claim that it has zero tolerance for political interference in its work, does the Minister agree that it should be unacceptable to it that reporters and election monitors from countries that pay for the food are banned from Zimbabwe?

My Lords, the World Food Programme, as the noble Lord knows, is a humanitarian organisation. I have every confidence that it is doing all it can to prevent the politicisation of its mission. While no British election observers, for example, are there, we contribute to the WFP and to its programmes for Zimbabwe. We have always felt that the poor of Zimbabwe should not be the victims of the heinous policies of their Government.